Elevated above the countryside, the Cave Temples at Dambulla are a series of caves dating back to the 2nd century BC. Once a refuge for Buddhist monks, over time the caves were inhabited and deserted with kings from both Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa who paid for renovations and added to the collection of art works at various periods. There is some evidence that the caves were used as shelters in prehistoric times. The last repainting is in the Kandyian style dating back to the 17th century.
Drive part-way up the hill and then gently walk for about 10-15 minutes to the Cave Temples. Five large caves are adorned with 150 Buddha statues, paintings and well-preserved religious works of art. All the caves have been enclosed by manmade walls converting them into self-contained units. A place of devotions, as you walk from one cave to the next you participate in a personal pilgrimage. On the outside enjoy captivating views of the landscape and Sigiriya Rock Fortress in the distance.
Cave 1 Deva Raja Viharaya – The Cave of ‘ Lord of the Gods’
Known as the Temple of the Gods, this cave reveals images of the last moments of Buddha and his disciple at his feet, distraught at the Buddha’s passing.
Cave 2 Maha Raja Viharaya – The Cave of ‘ Great Kings’
A kaleidoscope of colour this is the most spectacular of the caves and features most of the Buddha statues. Symbolic paintings to view include the Buddha’s search for truth and his excellent skill in archery.
Cave 3 Maha Alut Viharaya – The Cave of ‘ Great New Temple’
Stunning colours and predominantly rich yellows and reds illuminate this cave and ancient frescos reveal the history of Buddhism and significant events in a Buddhists life.
Cave 4 Paschima Viharaya – The Cave of ‘ Western Temple’
This cave features a serene Buddha in a meditative pose and images and statues of the Buddha.
Cave 5 Devana Alut Viharaya – The Cave of ‘ Second New Temple’
This cave is the most recent and features numerous images and Buddha statues. The images at the other caves are created out of granite rock and in this cave, they are built from brick and plaster.
Take pictures of the popular Golden Temple and the entrance to the museum, located at the bottom of the hill near the Cave Temple. A massive golden Buddha sits in the dhammachakka mudra (wheel-turning pose) above a bright red-lipped, open-mouthed dragon illuminated with neon signs.